February 08, 2011

Home Depot's China Fail

MSNBC is reporting today about the embarrassing closure of Home Depot's last store in Beijing. Instead of rapidly penetrating the vast Chinese market, Home Depot now barely has a foothold on the mainland.

It's not that Home Depot should never have tried to enter China. With a rapidly growing population of homeowners, it's a market the company simply cannot afford to ignore, but their market entry strategy was obviously flawed. Their initial focus was on establishing their brand presence throughout the country rather than first understanding Chinese consumers. They discovered the hard way that Chinese buyers are extremely price sensitive and that few homeowners are comfortable tackling repairs on their own. In short, the business model Home Depot has relied on for decades to fuel its growth led it down the wrong path in China.

November 02, 2010

Need a Little Inspiration?

I'm usually not much for motivational pieces. I generally prefer nuts and bolts "how to" articles or more philosophical discussions about entrepreneurship. However, this video is really well done and may inspire a few people who were contemplating a startup to get off the fence:

October 29, 2010

You Only Get Five Tickets

Warren Buffett is renowned for his ability to wait patiently for the right investment opportunity to come along. Instead of spreading his capital across a wide range of investments, he loads up on the very few that demonstrate tremendous upside potential. That's one of the primary reasons he's been so much more successful than most professional money managers. To cultivate that mindset, he once proposed that investors imagine they only had five tickets for their entire lifetimes, and making an investment required the use of one of those tickets. Just think how much more selective you would be if your portfolio operated under those limitations!

October 26, 2010

It's Not Just About Eyeballs

Daniel Lyons reports on financial problems at Digg and offers a warning for Web 2.0 outfits:

Digg’s collapse has become a cautionary tale for so-called Web 2.0 companies in Silicon Valley, even the current crop of superstars, like Facebook and Twitter. The basic problem is that these new-media companies don’t really have customers; they have audiences. Starting a company like Digg is less like building a traditional tech company (think Apple or HP) and more like launching a TV show.

October 22, 2010

Wesabe vs. Mint: Lessons Learned

Marc Hedlund recently posted a great piece on why Wesabe lost to Mint in the battle of online personal finance apps. As many of you know, Mint was acquired by Intuit in 2009 for $170 million. Wesabe, on the other hand, closed its doors several months ago. Hedlund was the product designer (and later CEO) at Wasabe, so his point of view is especially relevant. He points out, for example, that Wesabe launched almost a year before Mint, contrary to what a lot of people assume. He also makes it clear that Wesabe's failure had nothing to do with design or brand identity.

Second, Mint focused on making the user do almost no work at all, by automatically editing and categorizing their data, reducing the number of fields in their signup form, and giving them immediate gratification as soon as they possibly could; we completely sucked at all of that. Instead, I prioritized trying to build tools that would eventually help people change their financial behavior for the better, which I believed required people to more closely work with and understand their data. My goals may have been (okay, were) noble, but in the end we didn't help the people I wanted to since the product failed. I was focused on trying to make the usability of editing data as easy and functional as it could be; Mint was focused on making it so you never had to do that at all.

September 23, 2010

Fail Fast, Fail Cheap

We all hate failure. As a nation, we loathe and fear it. General Patton famously quipped, "America loves a winner, and will not tolerate a loser." And yet, failure remains as much a part of entrepreneurship as success. If you look at the careers of serial entrepreneurs, you will usually run across one or more flameouts before they hit it big. Henry Ford, Walt Disney, and Thomas Watson (the founder of IBM) all struggled early on. Watson famously had the following to say about the relationship of failure to success:

It's quite simple, really. Double your rate of failure. You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn’t at all. It is better to aim at perfection and miss it than to aim at imperfection and hit it. You can be discouraged by failure or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that's where you’ll find success. On the far side.

For entrepreneurs, the important lesson is to learn how to manage failure. If you do it well, it will get you that much closer to your objective. Here's how:

  1. Don't get discouraged by the inevitable setbacks and dead ends. It's part of the game. Get used to it.
  2. Treat failures as teachable moments for you and your team. Don't repeat the same mistakes twice.
  3. Fail quickly and cheaply to preserve the option to try again. (Know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em.)
  4. Keep your reputation intact at all times. Always play it straight with employees, partners, and investors.

If you follow these four pieces of advice, you'll get plenty of bites at the apple. Remember, it's not how many times you get knocked down. It's how many times you get back up that counts.

September 21, 2010

Design Patterns for Online Businesses

There's really nothing new under the sun. Most ways of making money, including sophisticated financial products, frequently have analogs from other industries and historical periods. Michael Rappa summarizes the most common business models found online, categorized into nine archetypal design patterns:

  • Brokerage Model—bringing buyers/sellers together
  • Advertising Model—promoting products/services to an audience
  • Infomediary Model—gathering information about an audience and monetizing it
  • Merchant Model—selling goods/service either wholesale or retail
  • Manufacturer (Direct) Model—selling goods/services directly to the user without an intermediary
  • Affiliate Model—providing purchase opportunities wherever people may be
  • Community Model—selling ancillary products/services in a community
  • Subscription Model—charging for ongoing usage of a product/service
  • Utility Model—charging based on how much of a product/service is used